MADISON _ The gap, Keturah Orji recalled, was "huge."
Orji, the sophomore running the anchor leg for Mount Olive in the 4x200 relay, didn't think she'd be able to overtake Morris Knolls' Candis Tanis. After all, Orji was 25 meters behind with not much race left.
Then, just like that, Orji did something she had never done before - pass another runner at the very end. Her strong final push enabled the Marauders to narrowly edge out the Golden Eagles in the 4x200 at the Morris County Relay Championships at Drew University on Wednesday, Jan. 4, triumphing in 1:51.80.
"When I got the handoff, I thought "I won't be able to do this,'" Orji said. "The Morris Knolls runner was way in front of me. I had never passed anyone with that big of a gap. I told myself 'Keep going. You can do it.' I didn't think a lot."
Morris Knolls, which garnered the gold in the 4x800 and had two second-place finishes, still took the team title - its first since 2006 - with 43 points followed by Morris Hills with 36. Mount Olive was third with 31 points.
As Orji gained on Tanis, her teammates screamed wildly and shouted out encouragement. After Orji crossed the finish line, she and fellow sophomores Alicia Warren and Suzie Nimoh and senior Ingrid Nimoh were thrilled beyond belief.
"Keturah just took off," said Ingrid Nimoh, who ran leadoff. "The Morris Knolls runner was so far ahead of her. Once she caught her, we were so excited."
Taking first was even better because Morris Knolls (1:51.90) and Mendham (1:52.25) are the Marauders' biggest rivals.
"We knew what teams we needed to beat," Warren said. "I guess because this was a county meet, it boosted our spirits. It was really competitive."
Suzie Nimoh delighted in watching Orji turn on the jets at the end.
"It wasn't me but it still felt good," the younger Nimoh said.
According to Suzie Nimoh, she and her teammates practiced handoffs on Tuesday and that made a difference.
"We've worked hard lately," Suzie Nimoh said. "We wanted to move the baton. We're good together as a team but we were losing a little time on handoffs."
For now, Ingrid Nimoh noted, the pressure is on Morris Knolls and Mendham in that event.
"It's their turn to worry about us," she said.
Roxbury had a similar experience in the 1,600 sprint medley, riding anchor Kayla Anderson's personal best to the gold in that event. The Gaels were seeded sixth in the heats, making them underdogs. However, they emerged with the gold over Hanover Park, Mount Olive and West Morris.
"I was shocked we won. I got chills," junior Maggie Hagan said. "There's no better feeling. I'm so happy. I always hate being seeded last. I was a little nervous. It was incredible to come out on top."
Monica Ochoa, the senior who ran the second leg, felt her heart racing.
"When I got the baton, I had to book it from beginning to end," Ochoa said. "I just tried to catch up to the girl in front of me."
Anderson, too, said she "needed to push to be first." Once she crossed the finish line, Anderson, Hagan, Ochoa and Koepfler embraced and whooped it up.
"I was nervous," Koepfler said. "We were third in our last meet. I thought we'd be in the top three. I was freaking out when we won."
Junior Carrie Wasdyke and sophomore Cait Noonan paired to take the shot put relay for Jefferson. Wasdyke had a throw of 37-10 while Noonan hit 29-10. Randolph captured second with Hanover Park third.
"Winning was really good," Wasdyke said. "It was really close so it was kind of scary."
Noonan has struggled with her form recently. Her throws have been affected by her opening her hips too soon. Wasdyke has helped her in practice, assisting with bungee drills that ensure that she holds her shoulders back. Videotapes have enabled her to break down her motion. Wasdyke assists Noonan in the weight room.
"Carrie keeps me going," Noonan said. "There are days when we all don't want to do anything but I can't let my laziness affect her. We have fun together."
Wasdyke, whose second throw was her best, is not the first shot putter in the family. Her mother, Kathy Baum, was second in the state in the shot put in the late 1970s.
One of Morris Knolls' second-place finishes was in the shuttle hurdles relay. The Golden Eagles were runners-up to the Randolph team, comprised of Marisa Savino, Haley Barron, Hanna Stepan and Samantha Kral.
Top honors in the distance medley went to Abby Seel, Sierra Tonneson, Reagan Kolakowski and Mackenzie Barry of Mendham (12:36.29).
Morris Knolls' winning 4x800 team featured Ally Black, Alyssa Brindle, Kassandra Ortiz and Jasmine Dostanko. They prevailed in 9:57.89. Morris Hills was second.
Taking gold in the 4x400 was Mendham (Cali Heffernan, Laura Papili, Margo Medenbach, Sarah Gillespie) in 4:11.08.
Mount Olive's Ashley Tomasula and Nicole Harrissiadis combined to win the pole vault.
Gold in the high jump relay went to West Morris, whose athletes, Kelsey Foster and Megan LaGueux, cleared a combined height of 9-2.
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